Keeping backyard bees is one of my greatest pleasures. Sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee in hand, I watch their comings and goings daily. Foraging bees return with water, pollen, and nectar. Departing bees head out in a direction based upon the dance they watched in the hive. In spite of the activity, they never fly into each other. It is very much like watching the planes at a very busy airport, but on a much smaller scale.
Besides being a beekeeper, I am also an organic and sustainable gardener. All of my actions are thoughtful and deliberate. A healthy environment is good for man and insect. With a newly constructed hive waiting for a finish, there is no doubt that the coating will be natural and non-toxic for the soon-to-be inhabitants.
To start off the process, I consulted our small library of beekeeping books, read through various bee forums, and consulted with long time beekeepers. The one finish that was referred to over and over was a combination of linseed oil and beeswax.
Why linseed oil? It a natural product made from flaxseed. This oil has been used as a wood preservative as well as providing water resistance for centuries. As far as beeswax goes, it has been used as a wood conditioner for ages. It helps keep wood from drying out and also protects against moisture.
But before you create your natural finish, please be aware that there are a few potential issues when working with linseed oil. (For me, the benefits far outweigh these issues).
Potential Issues for Linseed Oil
- Surfaces may attract mildew. Not as much of an issue in drier climates.
- No protection against ultraviolet light so wood fibers can deteriorate.
- It can be difficult to remove from wood if you change your mind and want to apply something else.
- And most notably… it takes a long time to dry. It may take from a few weeks depending on how thickly it was applied. For best (and quick) results, apply in very thin coats.
It is worth noting that the type of linseed oil I used is raw, not boiled. It was my personal choice to stay with raw linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil has metallic dryers added which help speed up the drying process where raw linseed oil has no driers added. Examples of oil-soluble metal salts include: manganese with zirconium, cobalt, and lead per Steven D. Russell.
Benefits of linseed Oil
- Seeps into the wood which enhances the look of the grain.
- It is water-resistant.
- Easy to apply.
- Continues to protect as the wood expands and contracts depending on conditions.
Linseed Oil/Beeswax Recipe
- 1 ounce beeswax, shredded or in pellet form
- 4 Cups linseed oil
Melt the beeswax slowly, taking care not to take it over 160F. It is combustible at that point. You can melt the beeswax and linseed oil in a double boiler or you can melt it in a pan on the stove, but at a low temperature setting. You could also melt the beeswax separately, but it will begin to harden in clumps once the cool oil is introduced to the pan. By melting them together… no more clumps. Even when the mixture cools, there are no clumps of beeswax, it is one unified blend.
You are now ready to apply the mixture to the exterior of the hive. A brush or a rag work equally well. Remember to apply a thin coat to the unfinished wood of your hive. Once it has dried, you may add another coat, but be prepared to wait a week or more for it to dry before you can apply the second coat.
Add this recipe to your natural beekeeping arsenal. This mixture is non-toxic to bees, provides moisture protection, acts as a wood conditioner, and wood preservative. Sure it may take some patience as you wait between coats for the finish to dry, but your efforts will be greatly rewarded. What you end up with is a beautiful finish that will last for years that enhances the natural wood grain.